Your dermis does a lot for your body. This thick middle layer of your skin that feeds the top layer, the epidermis, its energy and nutrition. It makes sweat, houses the nerve endings that lets you feel things, grows hair and makes oil to keep your skin soft and waterproof.
But at a stretch, and we mean a big stretch like a pregnant belly, it can only take so much. Connective fibres start to break. Collagen production is disrupted.
And then your dermis leaves you wearing the scars. Stretch marks. They don’t do any damage and you could get used to them. Men, for the record, don’t notice them as much as women do. But if they make you self-conscious or ruin your beach time, there are treatments that can help. Some only a little, some more than you’d think.
Who gets them?
Almost three in four women after pregnancy – mostly on the belly. No wonder, since the skin has expanded to the max. This causes tiny tears in the supporting layers.
As if puberty isn’t hellish enough, a growth spurt can also leave stretch marks. Thankfully, these usually heal during your twenties.
People who shed a lot of weight and body builders whose muscles balloon in quick time, can also get marks.
As with everything else, genetics play a part. Your mum has them, so you’ll probably get them. Dryer skin is more at risk than darker skins with more melanin.
So can mum have a make-over?
Sure – especially when they’re fresh and all red and purple. You can try natural remedies like wheat germ oil, especially good for itchiness, or prescription ointments like cream with retinoic acid that can help with rebuilding collagen. Moisturise with products containing natural oils. Use a body brush at least three times a week to improve circulation and regeneration.
Special diets and exercise might also do some good. Feed your skin with lots of water, as well as a balanced diet with heaps of greens and food with omega 3 acids. Keep your weight steady and stay away from medication that messes with your hormonal levels. All of these will do good, but don’t expect miracles.
Can you go all Star Wars on stretch marks?
You mean laser treatment. First, how it works. The excimer laser is the best option. It doesn’t cut or burn skin like other beams. Instead, it disrupts the molecular bonds in the skin. The tissue breaks up.
Second, how well it works. New layers of healthy skin form and the stretch mark disappear.
Older marks are tougher to deal with. The best option is microdermabrasion. A hand-held device blows crystals on to the skin to polish the surface. The crystals and top skin layer are sucked up by a vacuum tube and new, more elastic skin will grow.
Third, what it feels like. It will be red and tender and might blister like a burn injury. But it should get better after only a few days. The older the marks, though, the more treatments you’ll need. It could be up to ten. The bottom line: it’s safe, costs less than most cosmetic treatments and most patients are happy with the results.
What about surgical?
A tummy tuck is what it takes to remove the marks permanently. So far there aren’t other effective surgical procedure for the job. The abdominal muscles are tightened and excess skin on the abdomen is removed. That gets rid of all marks below the navel. There aren’t ops for other parts of the body yet.
Micro-needling. Tiny needles puncture the skin. Your body sees the tiny holes as injuries and makes collagen to heal it. One bonus is it helps topical treatments to penetrate deeper, so your dermatologist might combine the needling with something like a chemical peel or retinoid.
Pulsed dye lasers are used for rosacea and red birthmarks. They go for red skin, so now they’re also being tried on new stretch marks that are still red. Two to six treatments, maybe some bruising, improvements not only in the colour of the scars, but size and depth, too.
If you don’t want to go the cosmetic surgery route to get rid of those pesky stretch marks then try these alternatives.
Bio-Oil, R72,99, 60ml: Bio-Oil has been a local favourite for nearly thirty years and from the thousands of testimonials we’ve heard over the years, it doesn’t disappoint and really does reduce the appearance of stretch marks.
GlüKi Organic Tissue oil R130, 50ml: It’s perfect for correcting stretch marks, especially during pregnancy, as it supports collagen and elastin regrowth, allowing the skin to regain its flexibility. Apply daily for best results.
Busby Naturals Oils Liquid Gold Tissue Oil, R74,95, 100ml: The vitamin E enriched formula found in this liquid oil combines a unique blend of naturally derived avocado, grape seed and rose hip oils to nourish and improve the appearance of the skin.
SOiL Rosehip Oil R80, 30ml: Rosehip oil is rich in essential fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants that are essential for skin health. It helps rid your skin off stretch marks, pigmentations and scars.
Palmers Massage Cream for Stretch Marks, R53, 125g: With a special blend of pure cocoa butter, vitamin E, shea butter and bio c-elaste, this rich cream concentrate helps improve elasticity and suppleness of stretching skin.